Much has changed in the thirteen years since America was attacked. At least one thing has remained constant: the stupidity and futility of 9/11 truthers.
The truthers don’t believe men with ties to an Islamist terror group hijacked airplanes and flew them into the twin towers or the Pentagon. In some cases, they don’t believe planes hit these buildings at all. At minimum, they maintain the government orchestrated or at least permitted the attacks.
Writing about such bizarre conspiracy theorists may seem like an easy lay-up for a columnist, much like denouncing child molesters or praising puppies.
Is it really worth it to poke such a marginal group? My inbox will be flooded with missives from amateur explosives and metallic experts explaining in all caps that steel doesn’t melt. My ears will be pierced by the screams of a thousand forty-year-olds crying out from their mothers’ basements.
There is no point in arguing with people who cling even to benign conspiracy theories. If you believe Paul McCartney is dead or the earth is flat, there is no amount of evidence I can provide that will convince you otherwise. It’s an even greater waste of time arguing with twisted people who pretend to believe the Holocaust never happened, when their real complaint is that its death toll wasn’t big enough for them.
No one this side of Donte Stallworth has ever changed their mind about 9/11 trutherism.
Finally, people occasionally make the following argument: Yes, the cheese has slipped off the 9/11 truthers’ crackers, but has their impact really been as destructive as, say, some of the overblown theories about Saddam Hussein leading up to the Iraq war?
My response: might the Iraq war debate have been less one-sided a dozen years ago if the people who were arguing with the accredited intelligence agencies asserting the existence of weapons of mass destruction had been less associated with ANSWER commies and 9/11 deniers?
Trutherism distorts these debates to this day. When someone mentions Iraq war advocacy that far predated 9/11 or talks about ISIS as an unintended consequence of that war, it’s still too easy to dismiss them as engaging in truther-like fantasies.
Indeed, there are already ISIS truthers.
Here’s the truth about the truthers: like termites, the severely damage any political movement they infiltrate. They discredit any public figure short-sighted enough to indulge them.
Given their small numbers, occasional libertarian pandering to the “inside job” morons yields no theoretical benefit greater than a few additional comments on a YouTube video.
Worse, they’ve actually made intelligent discussion more difficult. Questions about the government’s lack of readiness for 9/11, for example, now carry the unmistakable whiff of fringe kookiness.
So do demands for basic government transparency, like calling for more of the 9/11 Commission report to be declassified. Mention this idea and some people will move away before you start ranting about the moon landing being fake.
That’s too bad, because some accountability has been lost in the inside job nonsense. Before we gave the federal government new powers in the aftermath of the attacks, it would have been helpful to know how many of their existing powers weren’t used properly.
We do know a bit about dots that weren’t connected, threats that might not have been taken seriously enough, visa applications that should have been rejected. But undoubtedly there is more.
Far from exposing the truth, the 9/11 truthers’ nuttiness has made political and bureaucratic ass-covering easier. By making the issue government malevolence, they distracted from an important discussion of government competence.
Why do you think George W. Bush’s approval ratings, which rose to the stratosphere after 9/11, tanked after Katrina?
Because many Americans thought Bush’s resolute response to 9/11 meant the government would be better prepared for big catastrophes in the future. The heckuva job they did after Katrina made them doubt it.
The Obama administration’s efforts to rechristen terrorism “man-caused disasters” notwithstanding, there’s obviously a big difference between a weather event and a terrorist attack. But the American people understandably expect their government to be up to either challenge.
We needed a real movement to hold the government to higher standards. Instead we got the 9/11 truthers.
Conspiracy theorists pose as bold truth-tellers willing to follow the facts wherever they go. But when they are not merely silly, they usually wind up facilitating propaganda and lies.
And that’s the real truth.
W. James Antle III is the editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.